Blues must try to slow down Bruins in Stanley Cup Final

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BOSTON (AP) — Jake DeBrusk got a step on Robert Bortuzzo and he was off to the races.

Despite missing the net on the breakaway, the message was already sent.

Two minutes into the Stanley Cup Final, the Boston Bruins flashed the speed and skill that got them to this point and exploited it to beat the St. Louis Blues in the series opener. If the Blues have any hope in Game 2 Wednesday night and beyond, they will have to slow down the Bruins somehow, some way.

”There’s different ways that you can wear guys down whether it’s physicality or speed,” DeBrusk said. ”That’s the game now. That’s how you have to play. It’s just races to loose pucks and then playing physical when the opportunity presents itself.”

Game 1 will be remembered for 5-foot-9 Boston defenseman Torey Krug‘s helmetless hit on Robert Thomas, but the Bruins won because they came at the Blues in waves. They got contributions up and down the lineup and played a style that flustered St. Louis into turnovers and a 30-12 shot disadvantage in the final two periods.

The fact that 77.2 percent of teams that win Game 1 go on capture the Cup doesn’t much matter to Blues coach Craig Berube and his players. The Blues, after all, climbed from last place in the NHL on Jan. 3 all the way to the final. They also responded well after a similar, sluggish start to the Western Conference final against San Jose.

Armed with that confidence, the Blues understand the key to earning a split in Boston is stunting their opponents’ relentless rush.

”It’s not feeding into their transition as much,” center Ryan O'Reilly said. ”When we have an opportunity to put it behind them and play that 200-foot game, we need to because you give them the opportunities, they can move the puck real quick and they come at you full speed. It’s not giving them any real easy opportunities.”

Boston’s top line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak had zero points at even strength , but in the end the Bruins didn’t need them on the score sheet. Coach Bruce Cassidy credited team defense for Boston’s eight-game playoff winning streak, the first in the NHL since the L.A. Kings in 2012 – just don’t overlook how all the layers of offense can affect opponents.

”Usually the teams that are still left here are the teams that have that depth and four lines who can skate and wear teams down,” Bruins center Charlie Coyle said. ”It’s not just two, three lines doing that. It’s every time a line’s out there making something happen whether it’s something little or scoring a big goal or playing solid defensively or wearing them down in their own end. That’s hard to play against through four continuous lines.”

Maybe a game-winner and primary assist from fourth-line forward Sean Kuraly and a goal by third-pairing defenseman Connor Clifton wasn’t in the script, but the Bruins’ depth was no secret coming into the series. Neither was the potency of its power play, which cashed in on the fourth of five St. Louis penalties in Game 1 and is always a threat to score.

Getting back to discipline is one necessary ingredient for St. Louis, as is limiting turnovers. The Blues want to turn the tables on the Bruins and make them defend instead of cranking up the offense.

”We need a lot more O-zone time,” Berube said. ”They’re a good forecheck team. They pressure, they’ve got good speed, they’re a well-structured hockey team. Our puck support wasn’t very good in the second and third period and puck play in general. Just too many turnovers. We need better support, better puck play.”

Cassidy and his staff figured out after the first intermission that Boston could skate wide around the Blues’ bigger defense and create scoring chances that way. Now it’s on Berube and his blue liners to close off that avenue to the net – which is easier said than done.

”They obviously have a lot of skilled players: They’re small and fast and they make plays,” Blues defenseman Colton Parayko said. ”Trying to eliminate them from getting to speed just coming out of their D-zone is obviously crucial. If we can eliminate our blue line from them and allow them to carry it in over our blue line, that’s a big thing.”

NOTES: Berube said D Vince Dunn, who missed the past four games after taking a puck to the face last round, has a chance to play in Game 2. … The Bruins are expected to go with the same lineup as Game 1.

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Golden Knights sign defenseman Engelland to one-year deal

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LAS VEGAS (AP) The Vegas Golden Knights signed defenseman Deryk Engelland on Tuesday to a one-year deal for the upcoming season.

The contract includes a $700,000 base salary and incentives that could bring the total value of the deal to $1.5 million.

The 37-year-old Engelland played in 74 games last season and finished with 12 points and 18 penalty minutes. He set career-marks with 152 blocked shots and 165 hits.

The Knights took Engelland during the 2017 expansion draft.

The team also acquired goaltender Garret Sparks from the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for forward David Clarkson and a fourth-round selection in the 2020 NHL entry draft.

Trade: Clarkson contract back to Toronto; Vegas opens up space

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Nostalgia is in the air, as “The Lion King” remake is in theaters, so maybe it’s time to cue “The Circle of Life.”

In a peculiar bit of salary cap management, David Clarkson – er, David Clarkson’s contract – and the Toronto Maple Leafs are back together again. While Garret Sparks goes to the Vegas Golden Knights, the Maple Leafs receive a fourth-round pick for their troubles.

Maple Leafs get: Clarkson’s contract ($5.25M for one more season), Vegas 2020 fourth-round pick.

Golden Knights receive: Cap relief even though they were going to send Clarkson to LTIR; a decent goalie consideration with Garret Sparks.

This is all about cap and asset management for both teams.

Clarkson was headed to LTIR whether his contract stayed in Vegas or matriculated to Toronto, and now his deal can be neighbors with Nathan Horton after they were exchanged. The Maple Leafs still have some work to do, naturally, as they need to fit Mitch Marner into the mix. The numbers might melt your brain a bit.

The Golden Knights still need to sort out their own issues with Nikita Gusev lingering as a fascinating RFA, and that resolution hasn’t come yet. In the meantime, or maybe instead, the Golden Knights took advantage of extra wiggle room to bring back veteran (and Vegas-loving) defenseman Deryk Engelland for a cheap deal.

Depth goaltending also buzzed around these moves.

Again, Sparks represents an interesting consideration for Vegas, as Malcolm Subban hasn’t been an unqualified solution as Marc-Andre Fleury‘s backup. Perhaps Sparks would end up prevailing after both of their contracts expire following the 2019-20 season?

Meanwhile, the Maple Leafs opened up room for a depth option as well, as they confirmed that Michal Neuvirth has been invited to training camp on a PTO.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

It kind of makes you want to dig up that Charlie Kelly mailroom conspiracy board to try to cover all the ins and outs, but the bigger picture takeaway is that the Maple Leafs and Golden Knights continue to work on their cap conundrums, and this trade was really just another step in the process.

At least it was a pretty odd and funny step, though.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Predators are being bold with term; are they being smart?

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If nothing else, the Nashville Predators aren’t afraid to be bold.

In a vacuum, the Colton Sissons signing isn’t something that will make or break the Predators’ future. That seven-year, $20 million contract has inspired some fascinating debates, but the most interesting questions arise around GM David Poile’s larger team building, and his courageous decisions.

As we’ve seen, Poile doesn’t just lock up obvious core players to term, he frequently gives supporting cast players unusual security, too.

This signing seems like a good excuse to dive into the Predators’ biggest offseason decisions, and also ponder maybe the biggest one of all: what to do with captain Roman Josi, whose bargain contract will only last for one more season.

The interlocking P.K. Subban, Matt Duchene, Roman Josi situation

By any reasonable estimate, the Predators got hosed in getting such a small return for Subban in that deal with the Devils.

Of course, the Predators’ goal wasn’t necessarily to get a great return for Subban, but instead to get rid of Subban’s $9M to (most directly) sign Matt Duchene, and maybe eventually provide more leeway to extend Josi.

There was some argument to trading away Subban, as at 30, there’s a risk that his $9M AAV could become scary.

The thing is, the Predators only seemed to expose themselves to greater risks. It remains to be seen if Matt Duchene will be worth $8M, even right away, and he’s already 28. Roman Josi turned 29 in June, so if Josi’s cap hit is comparable to Subban’s — and it could be a lot higher if Josi plays the market right — then the Predators would take even bigger risks on Josi. After all, Josi’s next contract will begin in 2020-21, while Subban’s is set to expire after 2021-22.

So, in moving on from Subban to Duchene and/or Josi, the Predators are continuing to make big gambles that they’re right. Even if Subban really was on the decline, at least his deal isn’t going on for that much longer. Nashville’s instead chosen one or maybe two even riskier contracts at comparable prices, really rolling the dice that they’re not painting themselves into a corner.

There’s also the scenario where Josi leaves Nashville, and things could get pretty dizzying from there.

Even if you look at it as a Matt Duchene for P.K. Subban trade alone, that’s not necessarily a guaranteed “win” for Nashville. It’s all pretty bold, though.

[This post goes into even greater detail about trading Subban, and the aftermath.]

Lots of term

Nashville doesn’t have much term locked in its goalies Pekka Rinne and Juuse Saros, which is wise, as goalies are very tough to predict. Those risks are instead spread out to a considerable number of skaters, and Poile’s crossing his fingers that he’s going to find the sweet spot with veterans, rather than going all that heavy on youth.

The long-term plan has frequently been fruitful for the Predators, as Viktor Arvidsson ($4.25M for five more seasons) and Filip Forsberg ($6M for three more seasons) rank as some of the best bargains in the NHL. Josi’s $4M is right up there, though that fun ride ends after 2019-20.

Your mileage varies when you praise the overall work, though, because some savings are offset by clunkers. It stings to spend $10.1M in combined cap space on Kyle Turris and Nick Bonino, especially since $16M for Matt Duchene and Ryan Johansen ranks somewhere between “the price of doing business” and “bad.”

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

So that’s the thing with locking down supporting cast members. It’s nice to have a defensive forward who seemingly moves the needle like Colton Sissons seems to do …

… Yet is he a bit of an extravagance at $2.857M per year? Again, that’s a matter of debate.

The uncomfortable truth is that, if the Predators are wrong about enough of these deals, then it’s that much tougher to wiggle your way out of mistakes. Yes, maybe the Predators can move Sissons if he slides, but you risk falling behind the pack if you lose value propositions too often.

Will that be the case with the Predators? We’ll have to wait and see, and the most fascinating test cases come down the line. If it doesn’t work out next year, in particular, then things could pretty uncomfortable, pretty quickly.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Sissons, Predators agree to seven-year, $20 million deal

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We see long-term deals with high annual average values.

We see short-term deals with lower annual average values.

But rarely do we see long-term deals with low annual average values. Like less than $3 million low.

Yet, despite the rarity of such a pact, David Poile and the Nashville Predators have become some sort of trendsetters in getting plays to sign lengthy deals worth a pittance annually.

Colton Sissons becomes the second in the past three years to sign on with the Predators long-term at a small AVV. Sissons new deal, avoiding arbitration, is a seven-year contract worth $20 million — an AAV of $2.85 million.

“Colton will be an important part of our team for the next seven seasons, and we are happy he has made a long-term commitment to our organization and the city the Nashville,” Poile said. “He’s a heart and soul player who is versatile and can fill many important roles on our team, including on the penalty kill and power play. His offensive production has increased each season, and he remains an integral part of our defensive structure down the middle of the ice. Colton is also an up-and-coming leader in our organization, which is something we value strongly.”

Poile seems to have no issue signing depth guys to lengthy deals. In 2016, he signed Calle Jarnkork to a six-year deal worth $12 million. In fact, he’s the only general manager to pull of such moves.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

Both players have chosen security over maximizing earning potential.

Sissons, 25, had a career-year last season, scoring 15 goals and 30 points in 75 games.

His AAV is in the ballpark of what was projected. Evolving Wild’s model had him making $2.65 million. What wasn’t foreseen is that term.

EW’s model projected a three-year contract for Sissons with a 30.2 percent probability of coming to fruition. But what percentage of chance did EW give a seven-year contract? 0.4 percent.

Anything is possible, kids.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck